Las Historias de Patricia y Alejandra: Growing Up Latina
Patricia Martinez-Swiggum, Alejandra de la Cruz
September 20, 2022
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a U.S. holiday celebrating the history, culture, and traditions of Hispanic and Latinx communities. But what does growing up in a Hispanic family look like from the inside out? Yes, it involves the delicious meals and desserts that we enjoy with our family and friends, dancing to music from the most influential artists in our genres, and holding years of loving memories close to our hearts. However, there is more than meets the eye in our culture.
For first-born Latinas and first-generation children, there are intense expectations and pressures from our families. We must overcome barriers and often break traditions and cultural norms to grow as we navigate through more modern times. In all cases, being a part of this beautiful and unique community means embracing our culture, acknowledging and honoring the generations of those before us, and always reaching new heights. Here is a glimpse into what this heritage has meant to each of us, both personally and as professionals building careers in the marketing communications sector.
Memoirs of a Border Town – by Patricia
From an early age, I grew up with a strong sense of family and traditional Latino values. My parents would always tell me that no matter what the circumstance is, family always comes first. As a young adult who left her small border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, and moved to the city for college, a big part of me carried a lot of guilt. I felt that by being distant from my family, I was letting them down.
Many Latina daughters, particularly first-generation and especially first-born daughters like myself, face an immense amount of pressure to supersede societal standards of success. We carry the weight of our parents, our grandparents, and our ancestors on our shoulders to go far beyond what generations of the past could accomplish. But as the saying goes, “You can't make diamonds without pressure.”
As I grew older, and through therapy, I learned to let go of the idea that my happiness was in the hands of others. My happiness is in my hands and to be fully content with myself and give the best version of myself to others, I had to re-learn to prioritize my feelings and needs. I learned that I was not letting my family down. Rather, they were living their dreams proudly and vicariously through me.
Although I am now in my early 30’s, married, and live 2,000 miles away from my border town, I know my family would drop anything and everything in my time of need. The support system that I have is immeasurable and irreplaceable and, without their support, I would not be where I am today. As a young girl, I dreamt about the day I would leave my border town. As an adult, I long for the days to visit.
I am not a supporting cast member of my story; I am the main character. I have the power to choose my own path, a choice that many generations before me did not. I recognize that the opportunities I have had are a result of the sacrifices my parents had to make. Yes, I am a daughter of immigrants, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a friend, a coworker, a seasoned professional working in communications. Yet I am also, undeniably, a product of the choices I have made and the hard work that I have put in that shaped my life. I have earned my place. That is the legacy I hope to carry.
Love Knows No Distance – by Alejandra
Growing up, the first language I ever spoke was Spanish. I would say it is due to my grandmothers, who only knew Spanish and watched over me as my parents worked. In elementary school, I recall struggling with not wanting people to know I spoke Spanish because the kids around me did not. Many years later, when starting college, I began falling into the same patterns I developed in my childhood – suppressing parts of my personality around my peers to better fit their expectations and succeed in a competitive school and industry. I was hiding the very things that made me who I am.
Now, as a 25-year-old Latina in the workforce, I have embraced the beautiful and unique parts of my culture and use them to my advantage, rather than conforming to the norms that surround me. I know that a large part of my success and drive comes from the morals and values of my Hispanic culture, which are strongly driven by my parents who sacrificed so much to support me and my grandmothers who helped shape me into the person I am today.
Tradition and family are a huge part of Hispanic and Latinx culture – we typically live close to one another, we gather for parties every week, and we support each other in any situation. So it was no surprise when my parents heard endless comments of “How are you letting her move so far away and all by herself?” when I accepted a job offer over 1,400 miles away from my family and almost 1,600 miles from the city that was once home. Growing up in such a close-knit environment that places a strong emphasis on family made it tough to leave the household - especially considering many of my older family members had never done so.
While leaving my family has been a challenge, it has been the best challenge of my life. And every month when I visit home (yes, every month), my parents and I both know that their sacrifices, the work ethic they have instilled in me, and the values with which they have raised me, have paid off.
Different Stories United by Common Values
Although many Hispanic and Latinx communities have a different story – we are all unified by the same core values: family, culture, and pride. As we continue to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and our respective communities, it is imperative for members outside of our community to also help empower our people, culture, and provide advocacy beyond a designated month. Latinos contribute to American society in endless and impactful ways. The footprints we leave behind are paths laid for the generations to come.